Several meaningful events which recently occurred in the Asia-Pacific region (APR) allow us to talk about the conceptual aspect of some long-standing memes. The most important being ”Europe” and “the West”.
Do they reflect any reality after the end of the Cold War or have they just become instruments in the hands of propaganda shifters who successfully use them to fool various victims? Is the current EU with its strange “values” just a substitution of historical Europe? What is going on with the leader of modern West, i.e. the USA?
To find an answer to these and similar questions, we have to take into account the factor of the rootedness of such words in modern political discourse. That is why it is preferable to consider different aspects of the sovereignty of each of the current leading powers of Europe (i.e. the West). This includes their history, prevailing religious and national myths, public and social order, and defining their modern economic and political interests.
However, there are some clues to be found by observing the behaviour of individual “westerners” in the current global game. Recently, the game has focused mainly on the conflict between the USA and PRC. The geographic center of the conflict is shifting to the South China Sea.
In this context, recent events in the region have proven very informative: the G-7 summit, the speech by the minister of defense of France Jean-Yves Le Drian at the previous Shangri-La dialogue forum, the ninth visit of the Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel to China, and the previous Malabar naval exercises which took place on the north of the South China Sea.
A key aspect of the political part of the Declaration which was adopted at the G-7 summit, was that the participants expressed “their concerns regarding the situation in the East China and South China Seas”. They also highlighted the “fundamental significance of territorial conflict settlement by peaceful means” based on the international law.
The phrases above, which are neutral enough, definitely express the position of the majority of the G-7’s European members, who do not want to ruin their relationship with China by appointing it directly as the source of these “concerns”. This follows Washington and Tokio’s lead.
Of all the major European countries, only France sees the traces of phantom pain in South East Asia regarding its colonial past. This was highlighted by the speech made by the Minister of Defense of France J.-Y. Le Drian at the Shangri-La dialogue forum (in the beginning of June in Singapore) and his next visit to Vietnam, where they welcomed him warmly.
Speaking at the forum, he claimed that France was willing to take part in promoting security in the APR, and, particularly, define its “regular and meaningful” presence in the region of the South China Sea. Furthermore, J.-Y. Le Drian included Australia, the USA, Singapore, Malaysia and “even Japan as well as many other countries” in the list of France’s partners.
China was left off the list. Yet, it was not defined as opposition to France in the region.
In commenting on this statement, it can be said that while Paris’s aim to revive the colonial policy of the second half of nineteenth century in its ”neighboring countries” (North and Central Africa as well as the Middle East) can be somehow understood, its attempts to ”return” to practically the opposite side of the globe (in conditions that are absolutely different from those of the end of nineteenth century) make you doubt the adequacy of the view of the country’s current leadership of the new world reality.
Despite the relatively neutral statement of the French Minister of Defense, it provoked painful associations in China linked to the invasion of Chinese territory by western countries in the second half of nineteenth century, during the Opium wars. Back then, France was one of the main representatives of the West.
The scale of the Chinese catastrophe brought about by the Opium Wars makes it almost the most disgraceful and criminal episode of the recent history of the modern West. It is hard to understand then why it is necessary to provoke associations of this type from the second world power and potentially highly favorable economic partner.
However, J.-Y. Le Drian did not stop at the statement on the beginning of a “regular and significant” French presence in the South China Sea. He promised to involve some other EU countries, which only reinforced China’s associations with the memory of the so-called ”Eight-Nation Alliance”, which suppressed the Boxer Uprising in 1900.
It will be interesting to see which European country is going to respond to the call. Will it be Great Britain? It was the first country to join the Asian Bank for infrastructure investments controlled by China much to the USA’s shock. Or Germany? Its government made great efforts to get the Parliament’s approval to send a Bundeswehr contingent to Afghanistan, which is located twice closer.
The latest successful visit of A. Merkel to China, in the middle of June, confirmed the absolute impossibility of a military stand-off between Germany and the second world power due to complaints made against the latter for owning some coral islands with names which are hard to pronounce. Plus, they are in the middle of nowhere.
Apparently Germany is facing completely different geopolitical “issues” linked to the bait swallowing which appeared not far from its shores. This bait is brandished with the trademark caption: «Economic, military and political leadership in Europe» (at least, Eastern Europe).
As recent history shows, the bait-swallowing process is the safest way to destroy any illusions of unity among leading European countries. To this end, the recent remark made by the prime minister of the Great Britain, David Cameron, on the topic of the extremely dangerous consequences of the infamous Brexit (i.e the UK’s potential exit from the EU) for peace in Europe takes on the feel of an ominous prophecy.
It is extremely interesting to witness the peculiarities of the political conflict which is taking place on the territory of the leader of the modern West. Almost for the first time in the last decade, the heart of this conflict is the problem of expanding “democratic values” throughout the world by force to the detriment of solving aggravating internal problems.
This problem shall have to be taken into account (to some extent) by the future President of the USA. This will eventually promote erosion of the conceptual aspect of memes of “the West” and “Europe”.
Finally, it is necessary to briefly cover the topic which has gained popularity recently, i.e. the ”expansion of NATO’s zone of responsibility into Asia”, i.e. the military and political realization of the same memes. Their creators and ”sponsors” put maximum efforts into artificially prolonging the life of the ”dinosaur” of the Cold War.
We can only be sure of one thing: the “Asian NATO”, which has been discussed since the turn of the last century, and the existing ”European NATO” will have almost nothing in common. The APR, where global policy is currently shifting, has its own games and its own main players. All of them came into the open during the recent Malabar naval exercises, which covered an area from the south coast of Japan to the north of Philippines.
The direct participants of the training exercises included the USA, India and Japan. China, the main object and purpose of the Malabar exercises, indirectly participated in them by sending a spy ship to observe two Indian frigates of the “united allied squadron”.
Thus, the Chinese ship passed through one of the straits between the north range of the Ryukyu Islands, which Japan considered as a violation of its territorial waters.
“Asian NATO” is, in fact, being formed, but with aims that have nothing in common with the European political games. That is why we probably will not see any major European countries involved. Even France.
Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the Asia-Pacific Region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”